World Baseball Classic: Do You Care?

marc w · March 10, 2013 at 11:18 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Today in Arizona, the USA came from behind to beat Canada to advance to the next round of the World Baseball Classic. It was a pretty good game, especially considering the fact it’s still early March. It had a decent pitching match-up between the USA’s Derek Holland and Canada’s Jameson Taillon, one of the top pitching prospects in the minors. For M’s fans, Michael Saunders continued his hot streak with a two run homer off the lefty Holland. For others, there’s Joey Votto vs. Ryan Braun. Joe Mauer vs. Justin Morneau. Still, quite a few die-hard baseball fans ignored it, and a few more disparaged it.

I get it. The WBC’s got several problems, the biggest of which may be timing. Teams are loathe to allow their top players to go play ‘real’ baseball in March, so to get buy-in from teams, there are all manner of pitch count restrictions. The resulting parade of relievers looks a bit like spring training, it’s true. Then there’s the format – you can’t have seven game series the whole way, or this thing would stretch into May. Again, the format is the product of compromise at every turn, which leads to situations like today’s in which player usage was dictated by MLB team needs, not Team USA’s needs. Couple all of this with the little-leagueisms like mercy rules that the uneven teams make, well, if not necessary, then understandable, and you’ve got a tournament ripe for mockery. But here’s where you need to take your head out of the rulebook for a minute and watch a game.

Sure, Venezuela taking out Spain wasn’t much of a shock, but the game was close for longer than anyone would’ve thought. The surprising Dutch beat Cuba in qualifying ahead of South Korea. Italy’s already sewn up a spot in the next round after mercy-ruling Canada and scoring two runs off Sergio Romo to beat Mexico 6-5. Maybe it’s easier for M’s fans (or Tacoma fans) to decide to tune in when Canada’s been paced by Michael Saunders and Italy (the surprise of the tourney by far) has relied on Alex Liddi, but anyone who watched saw some exciting games. Some may argue that the presence of an Alex Maestri or a Diegomar Markwell essentially disqualifies a game from being truly thrilling, but I’d disagree. Again, maybe it’s the fact that I was an M’s fan in the 80s and in the relieverless late-90s that makes it easier for me to adjust, but if you didn’t give an involuntary fist-pump when Adam Jones put the US up in the bottom of the 8th today, you’re a more rootless cosmopolitan than I am.

There’s been a lot of discussion the past few days about the discussion of the WBC from baseball fans/baseball sites. Yes, that’s an incredibly meta, twitter-soaked sentence, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot this weekend. I can’t pay attention to everyone in the baseball world, but in my timeline, there’s been a lot of WBC love. Or at least a lot of WBC one-month-stands. I haven’t heard the kind of out and out mockery that I used to when Gary Majewski was called in for crucial late-game situations seven years ago. I’ve no doubt that those who’ve picked up on and commented on a lack of enthusiasm from the baseball establishment are right, and the scheduling is a problem. The other massive problem is that the baseball establishment’s never really had an international tournament to care about. Basketball had the Cold War-stoked Olympics, and then the ‘Dream Team’ Olympics to build off of. The former offered a more-than-competitive rival and the latter allowed the narrative to indulge in Hollywood-esque star watching and pop psychology, two things that seem to dominate mainstream NBA coverage now (and I realize I say this as an unsophisticated consumer of NBA news). Hockey’s always been multipolar from the US standpoint. There were similar Cold War rivalries without the burden of expectations, and even without the Russians, the Canadians always loomed as affable favorites. More than that, those sports lend themselves to tournaments in a way baseball simply doesn’t. You can modify the nature of the tournament, but many baseball fans don’t *like* ‘tournaments’ when they’ve got 162-game seasons. They’re into revealed truth, not Cinderella stories.

I’m pretty clearly in the ‘pro’ camp. I’ll be following the next round, and can’t wait to see the Dutch and the Italians take on the world powers. I’m looking forward to the US facing Japan or Cuba. I think it’s pretty cool that Michael Saunders will head back to M’s camp with the kind of experience he’s had. More than most, I follow and care about the M’s Cactus League. I *wrote* about a match-up of Andrew Carraway and whoever the hell Dylan Axelrod is today. I understand but can’t agree with anyone who says they’d rather watch Axelrod pitch to Julio Morban than John Axford pitch to Adam Jones. But what do you think? Did you watch this weekend? Will you watch the next round? What changes would you make? If you hate it, why? Have you read anything about the WBC that struck you as particularly good or particularly stupid? Do you agree with those who say that the bulk of the discourse surrounding the WBC has been dismissive, or has it been TOO accommodating?


33 Responses to “World Baseball Classic: Do You Care?”

  1. mike9339 on March 11th, 2013 12:34 am

    USA vs Canada was an awesome game to watch

  2. ejmamariners on March 11th, 2013 12:38 am

    I personally love the WBC. I wish we could get better buy-in from the game’s stars (if team USA had Verlander, Kershaw, and Cain as its rotation I guarantee fans take more notice.). I think the tournament makes more sense in November. That way, if players suffer injuries, they have all offseason to recover. But I watch the games in part to see players who could come to the US (Dice-K, Darvish, Ryu as three examples of guys we first saw play in the WBC). And I love how intense the guys who are actually playing can get. It mirrors amateur baseball with pool play, so I wouldn’t want to see seven game series anyway.

    Then again, I am a baseball fan, not just an MLB fan. I love college baseball, and not just to see prospects. I think fans of the game should just watch and enjoy the tournament for what it is: high level meaningful baseball. I can’t wait for the next round!

  3. Westside guy on March 11th, 2013 12:57 am

    I enjoyed following the WBC games when I could… I just wish I could have watched them! I don’t get the MLB channel, so the best I could do was follow them on Gameday – but then you have to be at a computer because MLB’s mobile app didn’t include any of the WBC games.

    I’d like to see it timed better, and I’d like to see it on one of the major sports stations like espn – but yeah, it’s meaningful baseball even with all the silly restrictions. I think it’s great!

  4. HamNasty on March 11th, 2013 1:00 am

    I have not been able to catch a game this year. I do remember many close games last WBC, Netherlands upsetting Dominican twice. I was also lucky enough to attend the very first WBC final between Japan and Cuba.

    What isn’t to like about international baseball? With a 162 game season there is no good time. It is better then spring training tie games. Put me down in the care column.

  5. Flaco on March 11th, 2013 1:02 am

    I love it, but Im a baseball fan period. I too wish more US big name players would buy in. We need Trout, Harper, Verlander, Kershaw, Cain, Weaver, Posey etc. to represent our nation in these games. They represent the best of “our” best. Maybe in the future the WBC will gain a bigger following, and players can prepare themselves to compete at this time of the year.

  6. bookbook on March 11th, 2013 4:21 am

    Marc, if you were Dave I would gleefully point out that “loath” is the correct word for that sentence, not the verb, “loathe.”
    It’s a common misuse.

  7. PackBob on March 11th, 2013 5:42 am

    I don’t have the opportunity to watch, but I like it and follow the results. It doesn’t bother me at all that the U.S. doesn’t field an all-star team. When the basketball Dream Team won the Olympics, it was for me like oh, whoopee, the best players in the world beat all comers. It wouldn’t bother me if the U.S. didn’t even field a team. It’s great for the opportunity for other countries to have the competition, exposure, and world bragging rights.

  8. ChrisFB on March 11th, 2013 6:48 am

    In the abstract I care, and think it’s good for the sport, and I think it’s settling in as something that will be around for a while. And while I’d want to see this all happen around the All-Star Break, I get the tradeoffs and there’s really no good timing for it when the 162 game schedule already has its own issues.

    This particular go-round doesn’t work for my personal schedule so I just haven’t seen any of it, and apart from Condor I really haven’t had any great connection to those playing in it so I’m only kind of mostly following the coverage.

  9. ivan on March 11th, 2013 7:20 am

    I have successfully ignored the WBC since Day One and will continue to do so.

  10. Carson on March 11th, 2013 7:56 am

    I love international competitions and baseball. So this should be a great match for me. I was really pumped over the Phillips webgem and the high leverage dinger the night before.

    I just wish Joe Torre would stop managing it like it’s Parks & Rec ball where everyone gets PT and a trophy. Oh and the bunting. Holy effing bunting, Batman.

    I mean, seriously: Willie Ballgame got into the elimination tilt while Giancarlo Stanton passed out towels.

  11. kellykoof15 on March 11th, 2013 9:00 am

    I personally love the WBC. I wish we could get better buy-in from the game’s stars (if team USA had Verlander, Kershaw, and Cain as its rotation I guarantee fans take more notice.).

    I agree 100%. A few big time pitchers would go a long way to help.

  12. MKT on March 11th, 2013 9:35 am

    Two of the best baseball games that I’ve ever attended were WBC games. I have to qualify that by noting that I have attended a grand total of one postseason baseball game in my entire life, a first-round one at that — but it was about comparable in excitement to the more exciting of the two WBC games that I attended.

    The first one was in 2006, Mexico vs the USA. The crowd in Angel Stadium in Anaheim was about half pro-Mexico and half pro-USA. The national rivalries gave this game the flavor of a Giants-Dodgers grudge match, but with none of the stupid violent hostility of say a USA-Mexico soccer match (or Giants-Dodgers game for that matter). That is, the fans were fervent but not belligerent. Mexico had no chance of advancing, but by not only beating the US but preventing the US from advancing to the semifinals, their win sent the Mexican fans into heights of ecstasy. Imagine the UW beating Oregon at football, or the Seahawks beating the 49ers. It wasn’t at the level of the Mariners beating the Yankees in 1995, but it was a heck of a game.

    The 2009 final was even better. Japan vs South Korea, two countries with a decades (centuries?) long rivalry of RedSox-Yankee proportions. I’ve never seen a baseball game in Japan nor South Korea, but one got a hint of the atmosphere with the fans cheering with their flags, banners, noisemakers, and cheers. Unless you’ve been to South Korea or Japan, you’ve never been to a baseball game like that one. Again there was plenty of nationalistic fervor but no nastiness by the fans. An extra-inning thriller, won by Japan in the 10th inning by a hit by guess-who.

    It was roughly comparable in overall experience to the one postseason game that I’ve attended, when the Dodgers swept the Cubs in 2008 for their first post-season series victory in 20 years. Dodger Stadium was sold out, whereas the 2009 WBC final was just a little short of a sellout. There was a little more fervor for the Dodger playoff game; after all the ballpark was filled with playoff-hungry Dodger fans (and a few even more victory-starved Cub fans) whereas a lot of the WBC attendees were essentially neutral. OTOH the Dodger playoff game lacked the international flavor of the WBC final.

    I must admit that I’ve never attended a spring training game, but I feel confident in saying that they cannot come anywhere close to the atmosphere of those WBC games. 30K+ fans in Angel Stadium, 50K+ in Dodger stadium, compared to several thousand watching a meaningless spring training game.

    Lacking cable TV or any baseball video subscription I won’t be watching any baseball games at all except for the ones that I attend in person this year. I also have not been following the discussion and meta-discussion that MarcW refers to. Too little time, too much stupidity in the discussions. The last straw was in 2009 when a sportswriter who I normally like shrugged about the WBC and said, meh fine but what if someone gets injured. That comes close to being a fire-able offense in my book (and I’ve hardly read him ever since). Players get injured with or without the WBC; Mariano Rivera lost almost an entire season to an injury suffered during batting practice. I haven’t been reading commentary about the WBC in 2013 because if some sportswriter did bring up the injury issue, I wouldn’t be able to contain my ranting.

  13. jordan on March 11th, 2013 10:01 am

    I love the WBC. I wish the big stars would represent their countries however. I’m just upset I don’t get the MLB network. I think it has the potential to be a huge deal if the timing was different and the stars all bought into it.

  14. MrZDevotee on March 11th, 2013 10:05 am

    I love the idea, but can’t seem to get over my anxiety about the timing. Why not make it a Winter tournament? Maybe to coincide with the AFL?

    Instead, I’m rooting for USA to beat Canada, so Saunders can get back to Peoria. And happy/relieved that Felix decided not to play.

    I think they’d get more Major Leaguers in the offseason too.

    Love the Italy story this year though.

    And the fact that Michael Saunders was MVP with an OPS of 2.000.

    I also think it would be a bigger deal if ABC, or some other station, picked up the games. They could use their old “Wide World of Sports” monicker for the WBC.

  15. georgmi on March 11th, 2013 10:39 am

    I haven’t watched or listened to a game yet this go-round, but I consider myself a fan of the WBC. I *did* watch several games in ’09, including the Japan-Korea final, which was hands down the best baseball game I’ve ever seen.

    I’m hoping my schedule works out so I can watch some of the later games this year, but it kind of looks like I might not be able to get them. Are they MLB TV only?

  16. Paul B on March 11th, 2013 10:58 am

    I have watched the games when I could. I have MLB on Directv.

    I like having meaningful baseball games to watch in March. I’d rather watch a WBC game than a spring training game.

  17. RaoulDuke37 on March 11th, 2013 11:22 am

    Waste of time. If someone is making money off of it, good for them.

  18. terryoftacoma on March 11th, 2013 12:18 pm

    I could watch the games if I wanted to. I have the channel. I have no interest in doing so.

    I’ve been a baseball fan for 50+ years. I followed it when all you could get was the box score in the newspaper, radio and maybe see 8-10 games a year on tv. I know I’m a minority here in that I only watch mariner games during the season.Those I watch as I would if I were at the game with no sound.

  19. stevemotivateir on March 11th, 2013 1:09 pm

    I don’t see how it’s any more of a risk than a typical ST game for position players, and they could easily adjust the pitch limits a little more to make pitchers even less susceptible to injury.

    The WBC is a lot more interesting than what typical spring games have to offer, knowing that the players/teams take winning more seriously.

  20. GhostofMarinersPast on March 11th, 2013 2:08 pm

    I love the WBC! There have been some really really good games. USA Canada was fantastic and so was the late inning thriller involving Mexico and Italy! Not too mention a killer brawl between Canada and Mexico! Great brawl!

  21. taylor.mariner on March 11th, 2013 2:24 pm

    I hate the fact that there is run differential in round robin pool play. Like when Chinese Tapai lost to…. Damn I forgot, but lost to whoever it was that had to beat them by six runs. You just can’t predict runs in baseball like that.

  22. Greeff on March 11th, 2013 3:44 pm

    LOVE IT !!

    NL beating Cuba twice! that last game was something special! now have won 6 in a row against Cuba!

    What i do not love is the reaction of a lot of americans. i sense some arrogance as if the americans are the only ones that can play baseball and as if baseball was invented just for american audiences. for us dutch this is the best baseball there is. really the only high level baseball we have. i’m a very big Mariners fan but i will ALWAYS choose the national team above MLB baseball.

  23. Greeff on March 11th, 2013 4:01 pm

    “I get it.”

    I don’t really… MLB/NBA/NFL/NHL are the only competitions that are bigger in those sports than the actual WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP. and that’s just very weird for a patriotic country as USA.

    It should be an HONOR to play for you country and i think for the next WBC there need to be a rule change about not being able to decline an invitation. exept in case of injury you should be able to decline.

  24. miscreant on March 11th, 2013 4:22 pm

    I have had no means to watch the WBC. It isn’t broadcast on free tv. I’m not going to pay to watch it. So until it’s on free tv…I don’t really care about the WBC.

  25. djw on March 11th, 2013 5:04 pm

    It’s not a particularly big deal to me. Although I generally dislike anything that promotes nationalism in just about any form, but it’s a heck of a lot more interesting than Cactus league play. Am looking forward to seeing some of the best players of Japan in action. All things considered, a clear net positive.

  26. MKT on March 11th, 2013 5:16 pm

    If it weren’t for the fact that they’re stretching out the semi-finals and final game to three days, two of them workdays, I’d fly down to San Francisco to watch those WBC games. Whereas I’ve never felt more than a twinge of desire to go watch a spring training game. The WBC games that I’ve seen have been that good, worth flying several hundred miles and a couple of hotel nights to go see. They’re better than 99% of regular season games and comparable to first round postseason games.

    However, those were in Los Angeles, with built-in big fan bases for every Asian and Latin American country (as well as several European ones and Canada). I don’t know if the games in San Francisco will have the same atmosphere. OTOH, San Francisco’s ballpark is by all accounts one of the best in the majors and I haven’t been to it yet, so I’m still considering flying down to watch.

  27. msfanmike on March 11th, 2013 7:16 pm

    I have seen parts of several games and a few games in their entirety. It’s good stuff and a shit-ton more interesting than Spring Training games. The format isn’t perfect and the compliment of players isn’t the best of the best for a lot of the teams, but it is still very entertaining and it is OBVIOUSLY important to the participants.

  28. tmac9311 on March 11th, 2013 8:02 pm

    I’m a pretty big sports fan across the board, and the WBC is my favorite competition across the board other than the World Cup. I find aspects of the format thrilling, such as round robin format that allows teams like Netherlands to upset Korea and Cuba, Puerto Rico to upset Venezuela, and Italy and nearly Canada to upset Mexico and the USA. Would the format work better in November? Absolutely. But for things like pitch counts I enjoy because it requires a team to use its entire bullpen, you can’t have a player on your team that fills space on the bench, they have to play. I have a hard time sitting through any baseball game not involving the M’s, but I am on the edge of my seat for the majority of these games. I hope the tournament reaches the point where it feels more serious for americans, because other countries fan bases seem a lot more pumped about it.

  29. Breadbaker on March 11th, 2013 8:38 pm

    I actually saw the first US-Mexico game at Chase Field in 2006, as well as a Mexico-South Africa game at Scottsdale that year. I’ve watched a majority of the games each year and thoroughly enjoyed it. The fight this year between Canada and Mexico shows how the players who actually play feel about it; they are representing their country and they aren’t taking crap from anyone.

    I echo the feeling of Carson that Joe Torre is the wrong man in the wrong place for Team USA. Couldn’t they have hired someone who might, you know, have no other job but to do this while it’s going on?

    It’s also cool to see all the M’s and former M’s (Hyphen!), including three managers, McLaren, Sojo and Rich (now Rick) Renteria.

  30. juneau_fan on March 11th, 2013 9:49 pm

    I love it. It’s just different enough from the American game to mix things up.

    American regular season has this lackadaisical rhythm. The crowd murmurs in the background, the players moved with a studied pace; they have 162 games to get through, thank you very much. The international fans are screaming, banging sticks, drums, each other’s heads. There’s an urgency to each game with the players.

    I watch the Little League World Series, and I mean no offense to say that WBC reminds me of that. The commentators stumbling over the names. The mercy rule. The pitch counts.

    It’s the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with a crown on their chests. The Cubans, obviously dressed for a different party, and always a bit out of place. The Italians, where a name is enough, and that’s okay, because they remind us of Italian-Americans’ long tradition in the game. The Canadians, with the MLB commentator putting his foot in it by saying they look so Canadian, and as the camera pans, you see he means white, except Tyson Gillies. He then makes some lame reference about lumberjacks and beards and only one guy has a beard. The Canadians showed they play baseball like hockey, and that was nearly good enough until the score turned into an American football score.

    All the Mariners, past and present. The commentator criticizing Saunders for bunting in a scoring opportunity inning. Wladimir Balentien is a star somewhere else in the world. Adam Jones just keeps getting better. Phillippe Aumont is still in the game; who knew? It’s like all our shames and aggravations, come home to roost.

    If you can get the games, give it a try.

  31. taylor.mariner on March 12th, 2013 4:29 am

    During the Japan vs Dutch game they just made a remembrance to Greg Halman and I thought that was pretty special.

  32. King.Dome on March 12th, 2013 5:25 am

    Love the WBC! Haven’t been able to watch as much as I want. I’m surprised the Dutch made it farther than Cuba. Hope USA’s pitching will be good enough to get to the title game.

  33. 7468 on March 12th, 2013 4:46 pm

    I love the WBC. The comments and reactions to the WBC that I have read have been mostly positively. There are those who insist on putting down the WBC with comments ranging from it’s a glorified all-star game to its minor league baseball. It can’t be both… Some have brought up the injury issue which to me makes no sense, there is risk of injury no matter what you’re doing. Plus there is no evidence that players who participate in the WBC are injured more often, in fact the opposite is true. Think about the players coming back after this experience they are going to be more game ready.

    Anyone who think this isn’t competitive has no idea about baseball or international baseball. These teams play as a team in order to win not to pad their stats. Honestly, I am tired of the prima donna ballplayers and fans who complain about playing “extra” games , many of the latin american and Japanese ballplayers play close to 280 games per year. I would love to see the tournament expanded and played every two years. MLB can shorten the season to accommodate this if need be. This can be played right after the WS or during all star week which is a joke anyway.

    There are actually lots of ways to make this more “legitimate” in the eyes of other fans. If MLB really wants to get serious about this then there has to be money on the line and they can even put a team in international tournaments , pick them up off of free agency, etc. , or they can be made up of the players who are not in the playoffs , then the ones who are can join the teams later.

    I have coached and played international baseball and I have to say that the way teams from Cuba, DR, PR , Japan , etc., approach the game is refreshing. They actually love the game and it’s truly in their blood , it’s like it use to be here in the US. I don’t think baseball is our national game any longer, football has seem to take the spotlight. I love the WBC and hope to see it more often, can’t get enough.

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